Located on opposite sides of the Danube, Buda and Pest each has a distinctive character and allure all its own. Get a taste of this dynamic capital city with your choice of tours, then visit Budapest’s celebrated Christmas market—one of the largest in Europe. The highlight of the day comes after darkness falls, with a glorious New Year’s Eve gala dinner with dancing at a historic ballroom.
Budapest, formerly two towns, Buda and Pest, on opposite sides of the river, began as a Roman encampment in the second century, was overrun by Magyar horsemen in the 9th-century, and has been controlled by Ottomans, Austrians, Germans and Communists over the centuries, all of whom have left their mark. You may choose to get an overview of the city or delve into a single exceptional cultural institution.
Budapest city tour
This panoramic tour is a wonderful way to get an overview of the city if you have never been here before. It will carry you from Heroes’ Square, created in 1896 to honor the thousand-year anniversary of Hungary’s founding and its greatest historical figures, past some of the city’s most striking architectural sights—Dohány Street Synagogue, the Hungarian National Museum, the State Opera House, St. Stephen’s Basilica and the truly stunning Parliament Building—to Castle Hill, which has been called the heart of the nation. The city of Buda began here when King Béla built a strong keep in 1243 as a defense against Mongol invaders; a castle replaced the simple fortress; and over the centuries other castles replaced that one. The current castle is primarily 18th-century; a museum dedicated to Budapest’s archaeological finds is housed there, and the Castle Hill district has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll go inside the magnificent 700-year-old Matthias Church, named for one of Hungary’s greatest kings, and then wend your way on foot to the picturesque Fisherman’s Bastion, whose seven fairytale-like towers represent the seven tribes that originally settled the region. It offers a glorious view of the city and the Danube below. Note: Visits to the interior of Matthias Church may not be possible on some weekends and Catholic holidays.
Budapest Opera House tour
It’s a monument both to national pride and to survival. Budapest’s splendid State Opera House was finished in 1884, part of Hungary’s celebrations commemorating thousand years as a nation. Appropriately enough, the entrance to the huge neo-renaissance building is guarded by statues of Hungary’s two most beloved composers, Franz Lizst and Ferenc Erkel, who wrote the national anthem. Walk between the composers and into the grand entrance hall; marble columns lead the eye up to domed ceilings adorned with frescoes of the Muses, and the sweeping staircase takes visitors into the horseshoe-shaped auditorium. Inside, opulence is the watchword. Tiers of gilded boxes rise from the floor, and the incredibly beautiful frescoed ceiling by Karoly Lotz, depicting the gods on Mount Olympus, is gilded with more than 15 pounds (7.7 kilograms) of gold. The royal box—Emperor Franz Joseph put up half of the money for the theater’s construction—is still the best seat in the house. Your tour will give you a behind-the- scenes peek at this cultural monument, which miraculously escaped damage when the city was besieged during WWII. You’ll have some time to explore on your own after the tour. Budapest’s mineral hot springs are legendary: The Gellért Baths are in a gorgeous art nouveau building that is well worth seeing in and of itself, but why not relax in the steaming hot water? Later in the afternoon, you could catch a Christmas tram along the Danube Promenade and see the city aglow for the holiday season. Whatever you choose to do, you’ll want to return to the ship early enough to get ready for the New Year’s Eve gala.
Exclusive New Year’s gala dinner and dance
Ring in the New Year in a gorgeous historic ballroom, with an exclusive, wonderfully festive dinner followed by dancing. After midnight, the stately S.S. Maria Theresa will cruise along the Danube so you can see the city’s landmarks all alight—the Chain Bridge, the spectacular riverfront Parliament building and Castle Hill will all be illuminated for the evening.